Astonishing: The One Email That Made It Through

An astounding email hit my inbox this week that perfectly illustrates the value of triggered messaging, or email sent as the result of some sort of action or inaction by the recipient.

An astounding email hit my inbox this week that perfectly illustrates the value of triggered messaging, or email sent as the result of some sort of action or inaction by the recipient.

The email itself wasn’t particularly astounding. It was pretty run of the mill.

What was astounding was that it made it into my inbox when every other email sent by this particular merchant over the course of the last year has been diverted to my spam folder.

Gmail had correctly identified the message as the sole email I would open from that sender all year long.

Wow.

Here’s the story: I run a fantasy football league for email marketing service providers under the brand of my newsletter The Magill Report.

The winner of The Magill Report Fantasy Football Championship gets a tasty, regulation-sized football-shaped sweet bologna sausage from Dietrich’s Meats in Krumsville, PA [Mmm. Mmm.] and a lead crystal championship trophy with the winning company’s name inscribed on it.

I bought last year’s trophy from Crown Awards. I will buy this year’s trophy from Crown Awards. Their stuff is reasonably priced and high quality. The service is great.

Here’s where it gets interesting from an email marketing standpoint: Crown has been emailing me with offers I’m not interested in on a regular basis ever since the first purchase. I don’t mind. I simply don’t have any reason to do business with Crown accept once a year.

Gmail’s spam filtering system apparently figured this out. Every single message from Crown has been diverted to my spam folder without me having done anything indicating I’m not interested in the messages.

Until this week, that is.

On Monday, an email from Crown arrived in my inbox with the subject line: “Crown Awards – Time to Order.”

The body of the message contained a copy of last year’s championship-trophy order and a call to action asking me to re-order, which I most certainly will.

Think about that for a moment: Gmail’s anti-spam team has developed technology that identified the one message I would want among dozens from the same sender over the course of a year.

There are a number of possible explanations: The re-order email wasn’t part of the regular blasts. It was personalized and people are probably much more engaged with Crown’s re-order messages than its broadcast campaigns.

Inbox providers see this engagement as an indication their subscribers want the messages so they deliver them to their inboxes.

And here’s where the Crown example fits into the bigger picture: Responsys recently wrapped up a study of 100 retailers in which the email service provider found close to a third of the merchants were sending regular email to addresses that had been inactive for three-and-a-half years, and another 23 percent were sending the inactive addresses messages, but at a reduced frequency.

The study also found that marketers who have large lists in which 50 percent of the addresses have been inactive for a year or more are at serious risk of getting all their mail filtered into recipients’ spam folders.

But many of these mailers won’t even know their broadcast messages are getting filtered as spam. After all, they’re not bouncing. They’re simply being pushed into recipients’ spam folders.

As email inbox providers increasingly rely on engagement metrics—such as opens and clicks, or lack thereof—to separate wanted from unwanted email, the Crown example above points to what should be the increasing attractiveness of triggered email programs.

I moderated a webinar for this publisher recently in which online marketing guru Amy Africa discussed triggered emails. Here, in part, is what she had to say:

“The thing about triggers … is you get a higher response rate, better deliverability by far and improved lifetime profit,” she said. “The great thing about them is you design them once, tweak them a little and they last for years. I have clients who have been mailing the same thing since 1998.”

An average triggered email should outperform a marketer’s best broadcast email by four to six times, she added.

So which triggered emails work best?

According to Africa, abandoned-cart, -search, -site and -lead-form messages are all top performers. The success of abandoned-shopping cart emails has been well documented. The same tactic can be employed to reach people who, say, begin filling out a form to download a white paper or attend a webinar, but stop for some reason.

Confirmation emails are also top performers, said Africa. “Anything you can confirm works really well,” she said.

Emails based on past purchases are also workhorse messages, she said.

“They take a little time to get your formula right, but after that they’re golden,” Africa said.

Indeed. Just ask the folks at Crown.